Alcohol and the workplace

The World Health Organisation's European Charter on Alcohol states the following:
"All people have the right to a family, community and working life protected from accidents,
violence and other negative consequences of alcohol consumption."

Alcohol reduces the workplace activity and the productivity of the economy:
- Increased sickness absence
- Absenteeism from work through alcohol misuse cause high costs for the economy
- Premature deaths among economically active people (people of working age)
- Permanent loss of staff because heavy drinkers stay less long in jobs
- The inability to work (unemployment and early retirement)
- Poor performance
- Accidents at work disciplinary procedures
- Damage to business

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that globally 3 - 5 per cent of the average workforce is alcohol dependent, up to 25 per cent drink heavily enough to be at risk of dependence and one third of employees having been to work with a hangover, including difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, tiredness and mistakes.(1)

The Norwich Union Healthcare survey (2007) states that 15 per cent of staff members reported having been drunk at work and 10 per cent had hangovers at work once a month, 5% once a week.(2)

This fact underlines massive damage and economic consequences: data from the UK document that 8-14 million working days were lost due to harmful alcohol consumption. Moreover alcohol caused up to 25 per cent of workplace accidents (and 60 per cent of fatal accidents).

In the WHO/EC update survey (2008), most member states report that prevention and counselling on alcohol is available in workplaces. Almost one in three Member States have carried out nationwide awareness-raising activities on the impact of alcohol at the workplace in the last few years. But there exist neither a current nor a complete lists of companies in different countries which have alcohol policies or programmes for the workplace.

Workplaces remain nevertheless, a domain with plenty of untapped potential for addressing alcohol use in the broader framework of injury and disease prevention and health promotion. The intention of the FASE package “Alcohol at the workplace” is to build up a list of appropriate examples of practices, programmes or projects (PPP) in European countries. The identification and exchange of good practices allows companies and policy makers to benefit from the experience of other organisations.

For example, indicators for effective and successful implementation of workplace alcohol policies could be from employers’ point of view the hope for economic advantages through lower absenteeism and accident rates, increased efficiency and motivation, higher quality of products and services and improved company images and greater costumer satisfaction. Possible indicators from employees point of view could be the expectance of a better quality of life through increased work satisfaction, a reduction in stress, an improved working atmosphere, fewer work related health complaints, health improvement and addiction prevention and job protection.

Generally, for the success of the implementation of an alcohol policy (PPP) in a company there are some pre conditions necessary:
- General application - for all employees without exception
- Effective communication of the programme to all employees
- Commitment and engagement of the whole staff
- Ban on alcohol causes an important cultural behavior change
- Managers have to be open-minded for problems like alcohol abuse inside the company
- Sufficient time must be given for the implementation
- All guidelines applying to project work must be complied with.

1. A complete ban on alcohol at the workplace by legislation and national guidelines for alcohol policies or programmes (PPP) supports efficient handling of resources.
2. Alcohol policy programmes (PPP) are helpful for company managers to solve problems. This refers to the economic aspects as well as to human resources.
3. The “Good practice examples” are worthwhile to be translated and to be adapted into the respective national conditions and company cultures.
4. Local small and medium-sized companies should organize initiatives with similar companies to exchange experiences and competences.

(1) Code of Practice on the Management of Alcohol and Drug Related Issues. International Labour
Organisation, 1995
(2) Vanson Bourne and YouGov commissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare, 2007

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